Why help your child give up a pacifier as soon as possible? Sucking is totally natural. It just feels good to suck! And for parents of a cranky baby, simply a Godsend! But, sucking for comfort (NNS- non-nutritive-sucking) becomes a problem as we transition our of babyhood and into toddlerdom. Pacifier use can inhibit vocal expression, communication and language skills. It can cause dental problems (cross bite and palate issues), is documented to increase the incidence of middle ear infections and can hinder the emergency of adult teeth. Pacifier use could even stunt emotional development, especially in boys. *Findings from studies appear at the bottom of this page.
As a nanny, there were three families that I helped make the binky be gone- I learned by trial and error and I hope this article will help many families. I tend to go for gentle and gradual methods when attempting to change behaviors and habits in young children. But for certain topics, or for certain children, this can be confusing if you go a bit too slowly. Why? Because the when rules are always changing – that can feel unsafe and unstable.
There seems to be two schools of thought out there on pacifier cessation: cold turkey or gradual extinction (constantly changing when and how frequently the child can have it.) I prefer to aim for this middle way:
Binky Be Gone: A Plan:
1) First, Set One New Boundary around when a pacifier can be had: At nap and bedtime, or just one of those? Only at preschool or daycare because she is newly transitioning into a new situation? Stick with that for a while until the new way becomes comfortable. Decrease usage by way of setting a timeframe boundary and also tell the toddler that he is growing up and will need the pacifier less and less and then one day he won’t need it at all.
2) Plan a Place for the Pacifiers to Go. Talk it up for 1-2 weeks. Will they go to a new baby you know? They are collecting them at the doctor or naturopath or dentist when I don’t suggest planting it in the ground with some seeds as some websites suggest. We want the pacifiers far away from home and now there the child could stand over it and cry! If your child is 3 or older, you can let your child choose from two good options for where the pacifiers will go. If your child refuses, you get to choose. Ask people nicely to play along
3) Plan Replacement Therapy. This is not bribery. Like any physical habit/addiction, it is much more humane and comfortable to replace the unhealthy habit with a lesser evil as opposed to having nothing to turn to. But stuffed animals aren’t evil. Let your child choose a new one- fully informing them that they will have the new stuffy INSTEAD OF the pacifier tonight. I also know plenty of kids who like to sleep with a hard dinosaur guy- whatever they want! This won’t always work for every child on the first night. Occasionally a child will decide she hates the stuffy when you redirect from wanting a paci to holding the stuffy. Comfort you child and try again the next night.
4) Add Positive Peer Pressure. I’m a big fan of this for learning to eat new foods, being willing to sit on the potty, etc. Children do really well learning from children their age or older. It simply points out that there is a new and different way to be, something to grow into. This is much more effective than a doctor and a parent simply forcing their will explaining in heady adult terms why the paci must go. Resist using this method with children who are younger and not using a pacifier, as the words we choose in that situation can be shaming without our meaning them to. Quick- find a play group or preschool with children who are older or who do not use pacifiers.
5) Comforts in Place, Expect Two or Three Hard Nights. Now that you have a plan for how the binky will go, make sure that you write down a list of your child’s best comforts. How do you comfort your child when they are cranky and sick? Remember those thing and write them down so that you can turn to them in a moment of desperation. To remove a Pacifier for sleeping, expect the first nights to be really hard.
Expect crying and expect to have to physically comfort your child in extra ways for at least the first night. Expect the bedtime routine to be very long and so start earlier than usual with bath and books. If your child attends daycare or preschool, you also will want to begin this on a weekend so any sleep interference doesn’t mess with your child at a time when you can’t be around for comforting. You can cuddle in bed or use a rocking chair for the first night or two with stuffed animals, a sippy cup of water. You could plan the first binky-less night to be one where you have had tons of family fun and activity that afternoon and also a nice calm down period before bed. That combination should help sleep come faster even when there is much crankiness or crying.
If your child typically wakes at night to find the pacifier, you will have to attend to your child when they wake, reminding the sleepy sweetie about the new plan, where the pacifiers went and re-directing to another form of comfort, “Here, have a sip of water. Hold your little bear, cuddle up to me.” Resist adding new behaviors in the middle of the night like getting up for food or to read another book.
***Children who have learned to suck to sleep have not learned how to what I call “Work themselves down” to sleep. This comes with any major change in sleep association. It will be an entirely new process for the child to learn how to calm her body and mind without a pacifier. We all must learn this eventually- as adults, we toss, turn, complain, have some more water, our mind races, we process the day, we pee again. Expect that it could take 30min-2hrs for the first few nights. If your child is content in the bed alone, that is fine even if it takes a long time to nod off. If your child is upset, please be with him in the dark but model sleep so that you aren’t keeping the child awake.***
If your child only needs non-nutritive sucking when they are supremely ill or supremely tired, if the time with the pacifier is ten minute for less per day, and the pacifier is not being used as a means to fall asleep at night- then you don’t have a problem that needs to be fixed. Minimal NNS like this will simply be gone one day on its own.
The World Health Organization reported a positive correlation between pacifier use and increased incidence of otitis media (ear infections). The impact of otitis media on speech and language development is well documented (Niemela, Pihakari, Pokka, Uhari, & Uhari, 2000).
-Boshart (2001) suggested that dental problems associated with prolonged pacifier sucking could lead to speech articulation problems such as distortion of the fricative and alveolar phonemes.
-A recent study of dental malocclusions from approximately 15,000 children from one orthodontic clinic concluded that a sucking habit resulted in 60% of the dental malocclusions that were seen in those patients (Van Norman, 2001).
-The American Dental Association (2003) reported that pacifier use in 3- to 5-year-old children led to anterior open bite, posterior crossbite, mean overjet, and smaller intercanine distance of the upper arch.
*note* The pacifier in the photo pictured is the best kind to use with babies- over time it loses shape, squishes and takes on strange flavors, making it less appealing later on. Everyone I know who used this one gave the pacifier up early. This photo is of my little friend Sylvie pretending with the paci from her babyhood. Best to never start with a binky, but for parents of very fussy babies..here it it: http://www.zoeborganic.com/natursutten-pacifier/natursutten-orthodontic-new-packaging.html
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